Sanders, Stacey – Surviving Mesothelioma

Sanders, Stacey

Winston Churchill once said, “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” James “Rhio” O’Connor chose to see the opportunities when he was diagnosed with mesothelioma in October, 2001. Given less than a year to live, he chose to take the news as an opportunity to prove his physicians wrong. According to www.survivingmesothelioma.com, mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer in which malignant cells are found in the mesothelium, the protective sac that covers most of the body’s internal organs. Although mesothelioma has been reported in those who have not had any exposure, prolonged asbestos exposure is the most common cause of mesothelioma, which O’Connor had exposure to as a young adult. 2,000 to 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed in the United States every year.

According to a 2004 published review in one of the world’s leading medical journals, The Lancet, it was written that “For the treatment of mesothelioma, there is little evidence that current therapies (chemotherapy, radiation, surgery) provide significant benefit for survival or quality of life. [R]adical treatments, occupying the 3 months after diagnosis, can take up the best 3 months that the patient might have had. Malignant mesothelioma has largely defeated treatment…” This was not acceptable to Rhio O’Connor, nor was the advice from his oncologist – to take his wife on a nice cruise and begin hospice care upon his return. He armed himself with his best ally – determination. He sought out the advice of trained clinicians and with their assistance, developed a regimen of over one hundred daily supplements, changed his diet, practiced mind-body medicine, and used his determination to survive for seven and a half years longer than his oncologist predicted. He passed away on July 11, 2009 at the age of 69.

I use James Rhio O’Connor’s determination as an inspiration in my own life. In 2008, I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome. This diagnosis was a journey and sometimes, frustrating process. I went from feeling like a normal twenty-something person to someone in constant pain and having no energy. I have had doctors bring me to the point of near insanity with their questions of “are you sure you are not just depressed?” After begging and pleading with physicians, I finally was referred to a wonderful endocrinologist, who after reviewing my medical files and submitting me for a round of minimally invasive tests, was able to provide me with a reason behind the madness. Unfortunately, I let the frustration of my diminished health affect my life in a number of adverse ways. I took time off from college, I let a number of personal relationships suffer, and allowed the frustration and despair overtake who I was as a person.

While the medicines prescribed did help in some of the symptoms of the polycystic ovarian syndrome, I still had many unanswered questions with regards to my health. Like O’Connor, I took to libraries, medical journals, websites, and blogs to find other ways to help my illness. I took it upon myself to begin seeing a chiropractor in 2006, just as a way to work on my back pain. My chiropractor grew not only be a medical provider, but my friend and ally in my fight to find out what was going on inside my body. The alternative therapy chiropractic has given me speaks volumes. I used to get excruciating headaches on almost a weekly basis. Now, I get them once in a great while. In 2009, I read an article discussing the benefits of electro-acupuncture for polycystic ovarian syndrome. I researched the local acupuncturists in my area and found one who is not only familiar with electro-acupuncture, but polycystic ovarian syndrome as well. In just the two times I have been seen, I have seen great improvement as well. As with O’Connor, nutrition is also a way I have managed my illness.

If I was to receive a grim diagnosis, such as O’Connor did when he received his mesothelioma diagnosis, I would take and OWN my diagnosis, but know that my diagnosis was just a part of what is going on with me. It is not who I am. I would do just as O’Connor did – research alternative medicines, therapies, and psychological ways to address my diagnosis. I would not consider chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery if there was little to offer with regards to my diagnosis. I have a wonderful family that serve as my inspiration to do whatever it was I could to remain with them as long as possible. Hall of Fame baseball player and manager Tommy Lasorda once said “[t]he difference between the possible and the impossible lies in a person’s determination.” Determination is the key, as James “Rhio” O’Connor showed us with his undying will to forge on. I hope that in the face of adversity, I rise to the occasion just as James “Rhio” O’Connor did.

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